Monday, March 31, 2014

Hug a Medievalist

International Hug a Medievalist Day is as fine a day as any to return to the blog. I have a lot to share about the past few days, but much of it will have to wait until I have had some time to process it all:  Michael O'Rourke's beautiful work of mourning, Heather Love's instigation to rethink the natural history of queer studies, wandering around Bloomington and IU at my own pace for a couple of days, and sundry other minor reflections that need a space. But all in due time.

If I missed you with one of these today, I apologize. Today was a busy day but a wonderful day:  the weather finally warmed; there was a terrific turn-out for lunchtime soccer; I passed around the bear hug to my fellow-medievalists on facebook, in Denney Hall, and at the CMRS; the girls and I walked home from school with one of Alexa's friends and her family; Eliana chatted with me the entire way home (seriously, literally, the entire walk home - it was impressive and amazing); we played in the backyard and spent some time with our neighbors and their toddler; and I even did some grading, reading, and writing in the midst of all of it. It was a terrific start to the week.

 I will try to post some reflections tomorrow morning after the girls set out for school, but in the meantime, consider yourself hugged.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


I am making arrangements to take my English Bible class to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Room next month and came across this video of our curator, Eric Johnson, sharing some of the library's holdings. Unfortunately, I only ever make it over to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Room on their preview nights, so I am especially excited to take a class trip to Thompson Library and hopefully be able to see some of the items in our collections that do not often make public appearances. We are still negotiating the best date for the trip, but I will be sure to share some of the highlights on the blog afterwards.

The Hornby Bible

Monday, March 10, 2014

False Starts

I am so close to being able to submit a chapter draft for my work on friendship in Thomas Hoccleve's Middle English poetry that it is painful. At the moment, I am waiting for the girls to fall asleep before returning to the draft, which still needs a lot of work but is in a shape that I have been able to tolerate for the better part of two weeks. I am still struggling in a few areas, however, and since I need to wait out the giggles and gossip from down the hall and since I am in a writerly mood this evening, I thought I might share some of my more obnoxious false starts to see where they might go. What I offer below are random ramblings:  the words of a mind at work. Some of the sentences are as near to perfect as I can hope for this draft; some need considerable revision before I would ever send them to a committee; others trail off into nothingness; a couple made appearances on facebook; and a few are absolute nonsense that I am certain I wrote in one of my hypnagogic Hocclevean moments.

          The problem with friendship in Hoccleve's poetry is that friendship is not about who 
          one is but about what one does. Who is a friend in Hoccleve's poetry? Well, he is the 
          guy knocking and hollering at the door, coming to check on you because he has not 
          seen you in a while. What's his name? Friend. Oh, ok. That's a friend. What about 
          the guy from whom you are petitioning money? Is he a friend? If the petition is 
          successful, then maybe. If not, Hoccleve erases the name from the address, fills in a 
          new one, and sends it off to another would-be-friend. Friendship in Hoccleve is not 
          about who one is; it is about what one does.

          Whether communynge is unsuccessful – as in the misspent youth motif; unfinished – 
          as in the Regiment of Princes; recursive – as in the Friend’s interruptions throughout 
          the Series; or merely hoped for – as in the minor verses, Hoccleve…something…

          Whereas the Dialogue suggests that friendship, however problematic or unreliable, 
          is ultimately necessary, Learn to Die insists that friendships are unnecessary 
          distractions at best and potentially disastrous.

          Their authority is established, rather, through the give-and-take exchanges within 
          the dialogue and is not predicated on some form of domination over the Hoccleve 
          narrator, himself.  

My mind's a mess and so is my desk.
          While the dialogue thrived as an important literary form in an array of medieval 
          genres, Thomas Hoccleve’s poetics demonstrate the adaptability of dialogue as a 
          genre distinct from the traditions of debate, consolatio, and dit.  For Hoccleve, the 
          dialogue was a close cousin to the emerging forms of complaint and petition and, 
          like these latter two genres, permitted the poet to occupy multiple and mobile 

          Is "friend" an ontological category in the middle ages? What are the forms and 
          figures of medieval friendship? 

          In fact, friendship seems to be everywhere in Hoccleve’s vernacular poetics: 
          friends often attempt to intercede in Hoccleve’s misspent youth, which he recounts 
          frequently; his minor petitionary poems often voice the complaints of his felawes 
          at the Privy Seal; friends – including the eponymous Friend of the Dialogue – fill 
          the poems of the Series; and Hoccleve’s other works constantly call forth figures 
          of mediation, intercession, and communynge that are rarely named as friends but 
          are clearly meant to evoke something like friendship.

          Smith’s prevailing opinion was that Hoccleve “could never have dreamt himself 
          out of a respectable mediocrity” while Furnivall concluded, “We wish he had been 
          a better poet and a manlier fellow; but all of those who’ve made fools of 
          themselves, more or less, in their youth, will feel for the poor old versifier.” This 
          reception persists in some more recent treatments.  Malcolm Richardson concludes, 
          “As a professional bureaucrat, Hoccleve was exactly what he tells us he was, a 
          bungler, misfit, and perpetual also-ran.”

          What would happiness, pleasure, joy, well-being, or satisfaction look like in 
          Hoccleve's poetics? Aside from the brief recollections of having enjoyed himself
          during his misspent youth and the even briefer moments of penitential introspection
          that seem to offer him some form of solace, Hoccleve's poetry is not prone to 
          moments of laughter, frivolity, enjoyment, happiness, or bliss. Even his recovery 
          seems to plague and torment him. And the visitation of Friend does little to assuage
          his anxieties about who is reading him and how. 

          With the emergence of Affect Studies along with the recent critiques of happiness, 
          failure, and optimism in the field of queer theory, there seems to be no better time to 
          re-assess the medieval poetics of Thomas Hoccleve:  a poet whose inability to take 
          up the literary mantle vacated by Chaucer has long been one of the great signs of his 
          failure and a predominant cause for the relative sterility of his verse when compared 
          to the prodigious production and massive success of his contemporary, John Lydgate. 

          Who or what is a friend in Hoccleve?

There are certainly more, but the hallway has grown quiet and my coffee mug is empty. I would say by way of concluding, though, that one of the most difficult tasks of working on this project for so long (aside from actually writing, finding the time to write, and writing) has been knowing when and how to let go of previous drafts, previous sentences, or previous sketches of a thought. There is a part of me that wants desperately to preserve everything I have written on Hoccleve and make room for it in this draft. But everything does not fit. This work is not - in many important ways - about Hoccleve, about his poetics, or about his relation to the careers of Chaucer and Lydgate, on the one hand, or John Prophete and Robert Frye, on the other. My subject is friendship; it always has been. I have struggled for so long to learn about Hoccleve that I nearly forgot I was supposed to be addressing myself to friends historical, present, and to come.